Kaye Ibbertson, a good friend of the mountain peoples of Nepal and of the Himalayan Trust, passed away in July 2018 at the age of 91.
A Professor of Endocrinology with special expertise in thyroid disease, Kaye was invited by Sir Ed and Dr Max Pearl to join the expedition that built Khunde Hospital in 1966 to help tackle the problem of thyroid disease among the Sherpa of the Solukhumbu.
Most mountain communities suffer from iodine deficiency in the form of goiters (an abnormal enlargement of your thyroid gland), cretinism (a condition that severely stunts physical and mental growth) and hypothyroidism.
Kaye knew that a lack of iodine in the Papua New Guinea highlands had been successfully treated with injections of slow-release iodised oil. Kaye introduced a research and treatment regime in Khumbu.
The results were dramatic: no new cretins have been born, goiters have shrunk and all but disappeared, and the mental and physical slowing caused by hypothyroidism have been cured.
Congenital deaf mutism was another common disability due to iodine deficiency. In fact, so many deaf children were born in the region that the community developed its own sign language. Since the Himalayan Trust’s iodine supplementation programme, led by Kaye Ibbertson and Max Pearl, there have been no new cases of congenital deaf mutism.
Thanks to the research and innovation by Kaye, the Himalayan Trust’s iodine supplementation programme remains a success story to this day.
Photo: Kaye Ibbertson (second from left) with Sir Ed (right) working to set up the Kunde Hospital. (Auckland Medical Research Foundation)